Dissection of a Desktop Microworld

Dissection of a Desktop Microworld

Christine S. Marszalek (Northern Illinois University, USA) and Jacob M. Marszalek (University of Missouri-Kansas City, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-878-9.ch008
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Despite the long history of the use of dissection in biology coursework, it has and continues to be, very controversial (Hart et al, 2008; Kinzie et al, 1993; Langley, 1991; Orlans, 1988; Nobis, 2002; Strauss, 1991; Madrazo, G, 2002). This case study evaluation was conducted in an affluent suburban middle school in the Upper Midwest as a response to the problem of finding an alternative means of instruction that would yield the same cognitive knowledge development, address the issue of science anxiety, and accommodate different learning modalities. Several alternatives were compared in 14 seventh-grade biology classrooms, including physical dissection, virtual dissection in a desktop microworld, and content instruction through an interactive CD-ROM tutorial. Although differences were observed in immediate retention, none were observed in retention after three months. Differences in science anxiety are discussed, and comparisons made of retention and anxiety among various learning styles. Implications for classroom instruction are discussed from an instructional perspective. The smell of formaldehyde was in the air as students tenaciously poked with dissection probes at the frogs pinned to their dissection trays. The familiar comments of “Gross!” “I don’t want to cut him,” and “Hey, Mrs. M, what do I do now?” punctuated the air. It was the start of the annual climax of the seventh-grade biology curriculum, dissecting a frog. The teacher, already dealing with notes from parents objecting to their sons/daughters participating and the logistics of helping 30 students simultaneously, could not help but think that there had to be an alternative way of presenting the experience to the students. This case study was born from that familiar, frustrating scene, which occurs annually throughout school systems everywhere. The teacher in the scenario above was one of three from the Biology department at a middle school in northeastern Illinois. Her team came to Christine with the problem of finding an alternative means of instructional delivery that would yield substantially the same cognitive knowledge development in the students, help address the declining frog population, address the issue of science anxiety among students at the middle school level, and accommodate the learning modalities of the students.
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Setting The Stage

At the middle school that is the subject of our case study (let’s call it Smith School), the curriculum is designed and managed by teams of teachers from each core subject area (i.e.: math, science, English language arts) for each grade level. There are also three additional teams, one of which is Special Services, that design and manage the curriculum outside of the core subjects (i.e.: music, art, physical education). The members of the Special Services team included school counselors, social workers, speech therapists, and the Learning Center/Technology Director (LCTD) of the school.

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